Book Review: The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis

PrintThere are so many options for Lenten reflections out there. Many bishops and priests will write a reflection series, most parishes will offer some kind of booklet like the Little Black books or a Magnificat Lenten Companion prayer book. If you are starting to think, oh this is just another one of those books/series, keep reading! The Hope of Lent by Diane M. Houdek is a brand new series of reflections….hold it right there. It may say that these are “reflections” in the title, but I would respectfully beg to differ.

What is so delightfully refreshing about Pope Francis is that in one breath he can cause a person to stop, reflect and be moved to act. Houdek has very thoughtfully chosen key moments in Pope Francis’ daily homilies and addresses which invite the reader to not simply consider the daily readings, but to be inspired into practical action.

Lent isn’t only a time for sitting back and internal soul searching, though this can be extremely fruitful. Pope Francis is fearless in his interpretation and explanation of Gospel truths.

How often we find people – ourselves included – so often in the Church who proclaim: “I am a real Catholic!” They should be asked, “What do you do?”

The Lord’s mercy is in doing. Being Christian means acting: doing the will of God. And on the last day – because we will all have one – what will the Lord ask us? Will he ask us: “What have you said about me?” No! He will ask about the things we have done.

– Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Houdek rightfully explores the exhortations of Pope Francis by offering a brief follow-up meditation which typically includes an idea for how to put our pope’s words into action. The daily entry finishes with a few lines of prayer from Pope Francis.

Something I really appreciated about The Hope of Lent is how Houdek frames the purpose for it. She says:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance, deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does (vii).

So here we have a simple book that has found a way to hold two key truths in balance with one another. In one hand, it isn’t enough to talk the talk, we must walk the walk. However, while we are doing all that walking, we must not get caught up in our own action. Rather, the more we are called to action necessarily means we are called to greater contemplation.

We live in a rush, we are on the run, without noticing what the path is like; and we let ourselves be carried along by the needs, by the necessities of the days, but without thinking…Today, at the moment in which we stop to think about these things and to make decisions, to choose something, we know the Lord is with us, is beside us, to help us. He never lets us go alone.

– Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Even though Lent has just begun, The Hope of Lent is more than worth going back and reading from the beginning. And then reading again in June or July. And possibly in October or November as well. Pope Francis’ meditations are full of spiritual insight and practical wisdom that can inspire us to become hope-filled, joy-filled Christians.

Daily Graces.


Seeing Myself in an Unexpected but Expected Place

We had a rather rough Mass this week. John was having a difficult time listening and had to be quarantined next to Ben away from the girls. Rosie had a tough morning before Mass and some of her sluggish obedience came with us to church. Clare. Well, let’s just say the whole parish community gathered (roughly 300-400 people) knew exactly where Clare was, knew which book she wanted read and knew I was wearing a new necklace.

As you can imagine, I can’t tell you a whole lot about the homily. I did manage to hear some of the Gospel but I have no recollection of the first reading. I only know the second reading was one of Paul’s letters to Timothy because when the reader said it John shouted “Mommy! It’s St. Paul! He’s talking to his brother Timothy!” Very exciting stuff going on here folks, very exciting.

As we approached Communion I wasn’t exactly feeling prepared. I tried as best I could to focus on what I was doing and more importantly, Who I was receiving.

“The Body of Christ”I vaguely heard. I was making sure Clare and Rosie didn’t end up with a different family after receiving their blessing. I don’t think I even managed to make eye contact with the Eucharistic Minister, something which I make a point of doing.

Eucharist: Seeing my reflection in an expectedly unexpected place. Daily Graces at
CC Public Domain

“The Blood of Christ” I was told, but thoughtfully and directly. The minister had waited for me to look at her after making sure to point Clare in Ben’s direction. This briefest pause made all the difference.

I connected with her over the chalice she was extending to me. We were of similar height and when she offered me the cup which was holding Jesus’ most precious Blood, I looked inside. Many parishes choose to use red wine, for obvious reasons. However, there are some parishes, ours included, that opt for white wine.The lighting was just right. The cup was still rather full and golden in color which enhanced the clarity of the wine.

As I looked into that cup, I saw my reflection.

For that moment, the whole world stopped.

St. Augustine, in one of his sermons on the Eucharist tells us

Be what you see; receive what you are

It was a profound moment. Here in front of me is the Blood of Christ, the most precious gift Jesus gave us. He offers His Body and Blood as true food and drink which transform us more completely into Himself. Lumen Gentium (paragraph 7), one of the encyclicals that is from the 2nd Vatican Council, explains this mystery:

Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. “Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread”.(1 Cor 10:17) In this way all of us are made members of His Body, (cf 1 Cor 12:27) “but severally members one of another”.(Rom 12:5)

When we receive the Eucharist, which is Jesus fully present in both the Body and the Blood, we are no longer solely ourselves. We are at that moment fully communed with Jesus and with the whole Church, the Body of Christ.

In a way, seeing my reflection in that cup was a physical representation of what was spiritually happening to me. To see my reflection in the Blood of Christ was to see myself in Jesus and Jesus in me. Anyone else getting flashbacks to Simba in The Lion King when he looks in the pond and sees a reflection of his father while hearing the phrase “Remember who you are.”?

This was a moment of clarity, of realizing who I truly am and who I am called to be. I am a child of God, made in His own image. I am called to be Christ, to reflect His love, mercy and forgiveness to each person I encounter. We are all called in our own unique ways to the same mission. So in a way, I should expect to see my face reflected in the Body and Blood of Christ. Not because I am the important one in this image, but rather because Jesus shines through me when I allow myself to be fully united to Him.

It’s a little confusing and convoluted I know, I  rewrote that last paragraph a bunch of times trying to get it right. The main point is this: Jesus. And how our union with Him became clear to me for just a moment when I saw my reflection in His precious Blood. I think if I try to say more I’ll just end up getting you and myself more confused. Often spiritual things like this are beyond our words to describe them, try as we might to fully understand what happened. What matters is that we reflect, we try to understand and we share our experience with others, even if we can’t grasp it all.

Daily Graces.



I think one of the scariest things that has happened to me as a parent is hearing my voice mimicked back to me by my children. My son, who is 4, is a particularly excellent parrot. It is not uncommon to hear him shout through the house lines memorized from his favorite books, movies or TV shows. It’s especially fun to hear him tie different storylines together, weaving such complicated web that only he can decipher. Consider this recent tale:

“Rapunzel! Merida is stuck in the seaweed. We have to call the Octonauts to save her. Calling all Octonauts. Captain, we have to save Merida. On my honor as an Octonaut, we will save her. Peso! We have to figure out how to get her out. Can you do it? Yes Captain. OK, let’s go!”

It was so funny! I’m glad I was in the kitchen listening in so that he didn’t get self-conscious.

As cute and sweet as these kids can be, sometimes I wish they weren’t always listening. Like the other evening when John said that dinner “was gross.” He must have heard me me the previous day when I said that a rotten clementine was gross. Or when Rosie says “Mommy, you don’t get to talk like that. I don’t like that voice!” which she frequently hears from my husband and I when she starts to have an attitude about cleaning up the toys.

Speech may be one of the most important things that we teach our children. They learn it from us, in my experience, by listening to what adults say and how we say it. Kids are brutally honest and their speech pattern holds us accountable to our own. A child is more likely to say “please” and “thank you” if they hear these works spoken to them and around them, not just because they are told to say them.

When John was quite young, I went to a play group. There was a mom there who had a few older children and her youngest was about 1 and a half I would say. I noticed how every time she had to tell her daughter “No” she said “No thank you.” Even when we were leaving and her daughter ran into the parking lot, as her mom ran after her she was shouting “That’s a No Thank You!” I realized that this mom had trained her speech to always say “No Thank You”, modeling for her daughter a more polite speech pattern. When I retold the story to Ben, we both decided to make the same change. So, we are the “No Thank You” family.  We also try to be very aware of saying “Excuse me” to the kids, trying not to interrupt them, and always saying “Please.”

As parents, we are charged with raising up our children to live, work and contribute to society. Part of being a parent is recognizing that we still have room to grow and sometimes we make mistakes. Fortunate for us, we are all children of a forgiving and merciful God, who we call Father. As His children, still learning who we are and what His will for our lives is, we can look to His example, just as our children look to us. Scripture tells us that God spoke and creation came into being. God spoke, imbuing all of the Earth with His Word. If this wasn’t example enough, God sent His Word to live among us, to be with us, to die for us, and to bring us safely home to heaven once again. When we turn our gaze, or to continue with the speech example, our ears, to the Word of God, we are better able to mimic or reflect the speech of the Father.